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October, 2011:

Early vote totals after one full week

Here’s your early vote tabulation through Sunday, Day Seven, with five days to go. Here also are the 2009 spreadsheet, the 2007 daily EV report, and the Erik Vidor spreadsheet. Here’s the cumulative summary for the first full week:

Type 2005 2007 2009 2011 ===================================== In Person 24,141 15,792 26,662 19,751 Absentee 2,158 3,555 3,801 4,340 Total 26,299 19,347 30,463 24,091 09 Pct 86.3% 63.5% 100% 79.0%

The first thing you may notice is that the share of the 2009 vote total for this year is up considerably from what I reported for the five day totals. There’s a simple reason for this: I screwed up the arithmetic on Saturday, giving the five day total for this year as 15,689 instead of 18,689. The 2009 vote share should have been 81.4%, so it’s actually down a pinch. Among other things, that means all of the projections I gave on Saturday are off. Here are those numbers again, using the seven day totals. First, the share of the final early vote tally after seven days:

Year 7 Day Ev Total EV 5 Day Pct ====================================== 2005 26,299 78,585 33.5% 2007 19,347 50,264 38.5% 2009 30,463 80,516 37.8% 2011 24,091 63,065 38.2%

The projection for this year’s early vote total is up by 8,000 votes as a result of my screwup. I’m assuming that the rate of early voting will be between that of 2007 and 2009, which is to say I’m assuming that this week, when things traditionally pick up, the early vote totals will not skew too far one way or the other. Obviously, that would affect the final EV total if they do. Now let’s re-run the projections of the ultimate totals based on these updated numbers:

Year Early Total EV Pct ====================================== 2005 81,007 332,154 24.4% 2007 52,476 193,945 27.1% 2009 82,978 257,312 32.1% 2011 65,000 266,393 24.4% 2011 65,000 239,852 27.1% 2011 65,000 202,492 32.1% 2011 65,000 185,185 35.1%

I’ve added a fourth scenario here, for the possibility that we’re seeing a higher rate of early voting this year than in previous years. Again, the higher EV total given here reflects the addition of absentee ballots that arrive after Friday. If we now make the same assumption as before that the city vote share will be between 60 and 70 percent of the Harris County vote share, we get a range of 111,111 to 186,475 votes in the city election from Harris County, which we then bump up to 113,000 to 189,000 after adding in Fort Bend and Montgomery. That makes the high end estimate equivalent to the 2005 city vote total, which was elevated that year by the Double Secret Illegal anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. I don’t see that happening. The low end is about where it was before, and if we throw out the bottom scenario and assume the rate of early voting will be the same as it was in 2009, that yields a Harris County estimate of 121,495, or about 124,000 overall. Which is to say, much like 2007. I still believe that’s the target total, and I still believe we’re going to come in a little higher than that, say 130,000 to 135,000. All of this may change depending on how heavy or light the early voting is this week. My thanks to Ursula in the comments for pointing out my addition error.

On cities and counties

I’m really getting tired of all this BS.

Smarting from a $353,000 bill for the Reliant complex under the city of Houston’s new drainage fee, Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday discussed seeking legislation to let it keep city sales taxes generated at county facilities.


The idea of capturing city sales tax was floated by Commissioner Steve Radack, a reliable critic of city policies. The suggestion, however, was welcomed by the rest of the court, some members of which expressed dismay at the city’s actions.

The city collects an estimated $950,000 in sales taxes from annual events at the Reliant complex, including the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and conventions. More sales taxes are generated inside Reliant Stadium, but those go to pay debt on the building, said Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. Executive Director Willie Loston.

The eligible sales taxes, beverage taxes and taxes generated by visitors’ meals and shopping trips around town all could be targeted in the legislation, Loston said.

“Since they want to nickel and dime us, we might as well go for the big bucks,” Radack said. “We could keep that money at (Reliant), which would help continue to improve it.”

The city drainage fee is intended to penalize structures that contribute to water runoff. Reliant generates revenue, city officials reasoned, and should pay. Other county properties are exempt.

“Like many of Commissioner Radack’s rants, this one is ill-informed and ill-advised,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker. “He is asking Houston businesses and homeowners to pay more so that Reliant Stadium can get a free pass on the drainage fee.”

A few months ago, I was invited to speak at a Rotary breakfast. I talked about the importance of paying attention to local government, which I said has a much greater impact on your daily life than what goes on in DC but which tends to get less scrutiny. Someone asked me a question about waste, and I told him that if you had to design a government structure for the Houston region from scratch, you’d never come up with what we actually have. You’d want something more broadly focused, with less duplication and not as hindered by arbitrary boundaries. Something like that would surely be better able to solve regional issues, and be much less prone to the kind of penny ante pissing matches that we’re so used to around here.

We’re not going to get the chance to reinvent our government structure, of course. But that doesn’t mean I can’t think about doing things differently. And the question I find myself asking is why should Houston be a part of Harris County? As a taxpayer in the city of Houston, it’s hard for me to see what benefit I get from that arrangement. They don’t build roads that I drive on, Sheriff’s deputies don’t patrol my neighborhood, and so on. More to the point, there’s no one on Commissioners Court that gives a damn about the city of Houston, and three fourths of their combined budget is controlled by people who are unaccountable to me or anyone else electorally. So why should we put up with this? Why not get out?

The idea of having the city of Houston secede from Harris County is, I fully admit, crazy. The fact that the city’s boundaries resemble a Mandelbrot set, and that some portions of the city are connected by nothing more than a road is an issue. The fact that other cities like Bellaire, West U, and the Villages off I-10 are wholly contained within the city’s boundaries is another. I figure if the County Clerk can tell who’s in the city and who’s not at election time we can deal with the former, and for the latter those other cities can either join us in forming our own county, or they can have their own. Lord knows, there are plenty of counties out in West Texas with fewer people than what they’d have. Think about the benefits of shedding all that unincorporated and non-Houston territory that the Harris County Commissioners love so much:

– Our county property taxes would actually be used to benefit roads, parks, bridges, and whatever else in the city of Houston instead of subsidizing their construction and maintenance elsewhere. Without that extra burden, I wouldn’t be surprised if we could lower our property taxes as a result.

– Our County Commissioners – I wish I could call my proposed new county Houston County, but we already have one of those – would actually be accountable to the people who live in Houston.

– Our Commissioners Court might actually be a reflection of the population that it serves.

You might say that if the smaller cities went their own way and the only entity within my proposed City Of Houston County, that there would be no real need for a separate county government. I would not disagree with that, and it goes back to the point I made originally, which is that if we were doing this over from scratch we wouldn’t do it the way we are doing it today. I understand the role of county government where there are no cities, and where there are mostly smaller cities that benefit from consolidating certain functions like criminal justice and road maintenance. I can see the sense of it in fast growing suburban areas where some central entity is needed for planning and managing that growth. At least, I see the sense of it in places where county government works well with the various municipalities it contains, as I understand is the case in Fort Bend. But more and more I don’t see the purpose of having a county government where there’s a big city. Maybe this view is overly colored by the longstanding dysfunction in the Houston/Harris relationship. Maybe we’re the only ones that have this problem, though I suspect there are people in Dallas who are now shaking their heads. The City of Houston, which still represents a majority of the population in Harris County, is getting a raw deal, and there’s damn little it can do about it under the current structure. We can continue to take it, or we can say “Enough!” and demand something that works to our benefit and not to our detriment. I know what my preference is.

UPDATE: In response to some feedback that I’ve received, I want to clarify that my beef here is primarily with the Commissioners, who have the power and the money and the lack of electoral accountability. I have no complaint about County Judge Ed Emmett, who does make an honest effort to work with the city and not get involved in the pettiness that so frustrates me. There’s no reason why the way he operates couldn’t be the norm, and that makes it even more frustrating.

How about we use these precincts for now?

And here’s an update on the county redistricting lawsuit.

A federal court has asked Harris County and the plaintiffs suing it over its redistricting plan for county commissioner precincts to prepare briefs on whether it would be legal to conduct the 2012 elections using current precinct lines.

Commissioners Court adopted a redistricting plan Aug. 9, seeking to make the population in the four precincts roughly equal; the north and west of the county grew much faster than the south and east in the last decade, throwing the balance off.

Latino activists sued, saying the new boundaries for the southeast precinct, Precinct 2, amount to an “illegal gerrymander” that dilutes Hispanic voting power. Republican Jack Morman ousted two-term Democratic incumbent Sylvia Garcia in last fall’s election.

Neither the plaintiffs nor the county object to conducting the 2012 elections using the existing precinct lines; Morman is not up for election until 2014. It’s unclear, however, whether it is legal to move forward with the existing lines.

See here for some background; recall that the Justice Department has not yet precleared the proposed map. While Precinct 2 is clearly the crux of the dispute, having the 2012 election under the current lines could be interesting in Precinct 3 if a decent Democratic candidate shows up. I’m pretty sure the proposed map makes Precinct 3 more Republican – this is the Commissioners’ map, after all, and they’re not going to do anything to make their lives or re-elections more difficult. Briefs are due November 3, so something needs to be done before filing season opens. Maybe the federal court in San Antonio has some extra time on its hands to do another interim map. Anyway, we’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: Received the following in email from Sylvia Garcia:

The plaintiffs strenuously objected to proceeding with the 2012 Elections using the existing “old maps” or the “new maps”, subject of the litigation, without preclearance. That’s why the Court asked for briefs and set a hearing for this week.

The plaintiffs also argued for an interim map. The County objected. For now, the Court did not decide that issue and expressed concern over doing anything pending the outcome of the state redistricting lawsuit. Only issue they will take up at this week’s hearing is “old map” issue.

My thanks for the clarification. It’s the first I’ve heard of a possible interim map. That will be something to see.

Moving on from the Willingham case

It’s time to move to the next phase and make something good happen.

A state investigation into the science used to convict and execute Cameron Todd Willingham came to a quiet close Friday, but its results might echo across the justice system and the nation’s death penalty debate for years to come.

Making final changes to its report on the Willingham case, the Texas Forensic Science Commission signed off on a document acknowledging that unreliable fire science played a role in the Corsicana man’s conviction for the murder-by-arson deaths of his three young daughters in 1991. He was executed in 2004.


“The world should now know that the evidence relied upon to convict and execute Cameron Todd Willingham for the fire that killed his daughters was based on scientifically invalid and unreliable evidence,” said Stephen Saloom , policy director for the Innocence Project. “By any fair estimate, that indicates he was innocent, that he did not set that fire.”

That’s likely to be the only acknowledgement of such, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s not enough, but Willingham’s family has accepted it.

“It doesn’t bring my son back, but I know they couldn’t do that,” said Willingham’s stepmother, Eugenia Willingham. “Maybe Todd’s name will go down in history as being a part all of this.”


Since his 2004 execution, Willingham’s family has continued a fight to prove his innocence. Willingham’s cousin, Patricia Ann Willingham-Cox, thanked the commission for its work.

“Have we gotten justice for Todd in the state of Texas? No, not yet, but we will,” Cox said. “Has Todd’s death effected needed change? Yes.”

That change could be very large indeed:

The agency’s final report includes a commitment from the state fire marshal’s office — whose investigator was the chief prosecution witness at Willingham’s trial — to review old arson rulings to determine whether convictions were based on now-debunked assumptions.

The Innocence Project of Texas will provide most of the heavy lifting — about 40 forensic science and law students — to help the fire marshal identify and review old arson cases, said Jeff Blackburn, chief lawyer for the Texas nonprofit legal organization.

“I think this is a great opportunity,” Blackburn said during Friday’s commission meeting in Austin. “As far as I know, this is the only example of this kind of cooperation going on anywhere in the country.”

Saloom commended the commission for acknowledging that the scientific understanding of fire behavior has vastly improved over the past 20 years — and for listing now-debunked arson indicators in its final report. That action might ensure that unreliable science no longer taints arson investigations in Texas and could serve as a model for other states grappling with the issue, Saloom said.

Hard to know exactly how many cases there will be to review, though the Texas Observer has a few suggestions for where to start. Really, the question is not about finding bogus convictions, but whether the prosecutors involved will accept the findings or cling to their discredited evidence and fight them on the grounds that having a “final result” and “respecting the jury’s verdict” is more important than an innocent person rotting in jail. There’s no shortage of the latter, after all.

Put that wine bottle down and slowly back away

Don’t buy wine over the Internet, kids. The State of Texas says so.

State officials have teamed up with FedEx, UPS and other shippers to ferret out wines being sent to Texas by websites that don’t have proper permits.

That has prompted and several other resellers to restrict sales to consumers in the Lone Star State. has 30,000 active customers statewide, CEO Rich Bergsund told the American-Statesman on Thursday. Those customers were notified via email this month that the company had halted shipments of wine to Texas.

Other sites not currently shipping wine to Texas include,, and

A law blocking the deliveries isn’t new, but the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has ratcheted up enforcement efforts this year.

“Anybody who is going to sell to Texans has to have a permit,” TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck said.

And, right now, Beck said, there’s no law enabling out-of-state resellers to obtain permits allowing them to sell wine here. “They haven’t been authorized by the Legislature,” she said.

Nasty little conundrum there, isn’t it? You need to get a permit to sell wine in Texas, but there’s no law that allows an out-of-state retailer to get such a permit. Thus are crackdowns like this born. There is one potential workaround for businesses like, but it’s at best a partial solution:

In its message to customers, indicated it was working to set up a warehouse in Houston in hopes of securing a state permit. A lease could be signed soon, Bergsund said.

“We are hoping the state government will see this as a win-win,” the company wrote in its email, “because we will bring valuable jobs into Texas, but there are no guarantees.”

A question-and-answer section on indicates the company has used a similar approach in other states with similar restrictions.

“We’ve opened a network of warehouses in a number of states, giving us a local presence in those states. This enables us to legally ship wine to our customers in those states while also reducing the shipping time to get you your wine. Unfortunately, in some states not even that will suffice, so keep those letters and emails flowing to your state legislators!”

Beck said would only be able to ship to residents of Houston, Harris County and areas within a two-mile radius of Houston’s city limits if its proposed warehouse materializes.

Given that Texas wineries can sell and ship to any customers within Texas, one presumes that would either have to open a storefront or start growing grapes here to qualify.

Unlike many industries, online wine sales are a minimal share of the total – about one percent, according to the story, though the potential for growth is there. It’s never going to be a dominant force, but that’s not stopping state regulators here and elsewhere from intervening. It’s hard to see this as anything but an anti-competitive move, one that like the byzantine restrictions we have on selling beer in this state will do nothing for the consumers. From my perspective, as long as the Internet retailers pay the same taxes as the brick and mortar folks, it’s all good. And speaking of such things, let me give the last word to the Austin Contrarian, from whom I saw this story:

Thankfully, Texas booksellers didn’t have the political clout wielded by wine merchants and wholesalers when Amazon was getting off the ground back in the 1990s, else the State would have banned buying books off the internet, too.

Good thing there isn’t a state agency equivalent to the TABC for books.

Weekend link dump for October 30


Happy penultimate day before Dia de los Muertos, Charlie Brown!

When frozen armadillos are outlawed, only outlaws will have frozen armadillos.

The secret of success for symphony orchestras is to figure out who their audience really is.

Good for you, John Bon Jovi.

CSI: Pleistocene Epoch.

Cheese or font? It’s harder than you think to tell.

One political joke deserves another.

You deserve a break today.

Is yo-yo energy in our future?

Speaking of our future, I heartily endorse this use of robots to make our lives better.

If the Snidely Whiplash cape and mustache fit…

We needed a good zombie invasion here in Houston.

Hey, if being gay really is a choice…

“No pie eating people can ever be permanently vanquished.”

Yeah, I hate it when this happens to me, too. Oh, wait. Never mind, it’s never happened to me.

The life and alternative timeline of Alex P. Keaton.

Maybe we should just call him “Rich” Perry.

Sometimes stealing is a good thing.

“Don’t confuse Paul Ryan with the facts. If studies run up against Ryan’s ideology, then the studies must give way.”

I would envision a different future for the anti-abortion movement, but there are worse possibilities than that one.

“I have been silent for 13.7 billion years, but no more.”

I for one welcome our giant Lego humanoid overlords.

The Juggalo menace.

Meet Monique Howard, offensive lineman and inspirational comeback story.

It’s official: WVU to Big XII

The Big East takes another body blow.

The Big 12 welcomed West Virginia from the Big East and bid goodbye to Missouri before the Tigers even had a chance to finalize their move to the Southeastern Conference.

Now that the poaching of the Big East seems to be over, the beleaguered league is not backing down. It has been busy courting six schools and says it was braced for the latest loss. And despite what the Big 12 says, the Big East plans to keep West Virginia for two more years — just as it has vowed to keep Pittsburgh and Syracuse away from the Atlantic Coast Conference until 2014.

The latest round of conference realignment appears to be winding down, but tug-o-war over who goes where when likely will take a while to sort out.

The Big 12 completed its work Friday by adding West Virginia to become its easternmost member, joining Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, TCU and Iowa State.

The Big 12 said it expects to have 10 schools for the 2012-13 season, listing West Virginia but not Missouri, which is expected to complete its move to the SEC any day now.

“I wouldn’t say that there won’t be further expansion,” interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas said on a conference call Friday evening. “But our mission was … to move forward with 10 teams at this point. That doesn’t mean that there wouldn’t be further consideration. But right now, we’ve got our house in order. We’ve got everybody signed up. We’re looking forward to a very aggressive conference.”

So for now at least, Louisville will remain in the Big East despite a late push from Sen. Mitch McConnell to push them ahead of West Virginia. The Big East continues to insist that WVU, along with Pittsburgh and Syracuse, will be held to their conference commitment through the end of the 2013 season, but I think we all know that that’s a problem that can be resolved by a judicious application of the checkbook.

Given that, what will the Big East do? The sidebar on this ESPN story says it will continue forward with an expanded version of its expansion plans.

The Big East plans to announce Central Florida, Houston and SMU as future members of the conference, likely in 2013, as early as Tuesday, the source said. Navy and Air Force are being more deliberate and methodical in the process, but the conference is hopeful both soon will follow, along with Boise State.

The conference has statistics it believes shows those six teams in addition to Louisville, Rutgers, UConn, South Florida and Cincinnati would qualify the conference as a continued automatic qualifier for the BCS. As a 12th member, the schools under discussion include BYU, Army, Temple, East Carolina and Memphis. BYU would be part of a logical Western Division of the Big East.

The Big East believes it would qualify for the BCS because of the depth of the football success of proposed teams in terms of Top 25 appearances and an overall lack of traditional bottom-feeding schools.

While some may suggest an independent school like Navy or Air Force could be available as early as next season, a conference official warned that those schools are committed to large schedules for next season that would create complications as challenging as adding a school from a conference that has exit fee and timeline complications.

I think if the Big East gets the schools it wants that it can survive and could continue to be a BCS conference, but it will be a conference of convenience and not much more. I don’t see a whole lot of traditional rivalries in that group, and the ones that I do see all involve newcomers. What will hold anyone to the conference in the event that one or more of the ACC, SEC, and Big XII decide that 14 and 10 members are awkward numbers to schedule around? That’s the decision that UH now faces.

University of Houston Chancellor and President Renu Khator was granted authority to make decisions regarding the school’s athletic conference affiliation during a board of regents meeting on Thursday at UH.

School officials did not publicly discuss any particular conferences. However, the school has interest and an invitation from the Big East Conference, which is looking to expand to 12 football-playing members.

“We certainly want to thank chairperson (Nelda Luce) Blair and the board of regents for their decision to grant our chancellor authority to make any decisions regarding conference membership, conference affiliation that are in the best interests of our student-athletes, staff, head coaches and our athletic department,” UH athletic director Mack Rhoades said.

The timetable for when UH might take its next step in determining its conference future is unclear.

“We’ll wait and see,” Rhoades said.

I think if you feel reasonably certain that the Big East gets all the schools it is targeting, and that the other conferences are satisfied with what they have for the foreseeable future, then you make the move and hope for the best, even if it means that your biggest rivalry game goes the way of UT-A&M. I have no idea how to evaluate those odds, and no idea how risk averse UH will be. I’m just glad it’s not my decision to make.

Two finance report updates

Since I’ve made a big deal out of who hasn’t filed their 30 Day campaign finance reports, I am compelled to note that as of October 27, Scott Boates in At Large #1 has now filed his. Eight day reports are due tomorrow, and the last 30 Day reports before this one were filed on the 11th, but nonetheless it has been filed.

And since I was one of several people to note Bo Fraga’s apparently illegal $35,000 loan from Lupe Fraga of Tejas Office Products, I am also compelled to note that on the same date, he filed an amended report which reports that the loan has been paid back in full. He now reports a cash on hand balance of $17,733 as of that report, which no longer puts him among the leaders in that race.

Anyway. The 8 Day reports are due tomorrow, and I expect the early filings will start to show up later in the day. I’ve been called for jury duty, so don’t expect me to get to them right away, but I will upload them as I can.

San Antonio moves forward with streetcar plan

San Antonio City Council has voted to approve funding for a five-year transit expansion plan that includes a streetcar line.

The vote all but guarantees construction of the city’s first urban rail project since San Antonio ended its electric streetcar operation in 1933.

“I do believe what this plan does is it looks forward,” [Mayor Julian] Castro said.

The city, county and VIA now will draft an interlocal agreement to implement the plan. Bexar County has dedicated $55 million for the starter line, VIA will pay $70 million and the city will pursue creation of a special assessment district in the streetcar corridor, requiring property owners to pay into a pool of money to fund the service.

If the district isn’t created, the city deal is void.

Over five years, the city will contribute $40 million to the plan, which includes money for two downtown transit centers and two park and ride facilities.

See here and here for some related stuff. There’s a lot of ambitious plans for transit expansion going on in San Antonio, some of which will depend on federal funding that is not exactly guaranteed. Which is too bad, because this is something a lot of cities should be thinking about, and there may never be a cheaper time to finance such projects. That’s a much larger discussion, of course. In any event, I wish them well in this endeavor.

Jazzing it up

A little plug for my alma mater.

KRTU knows how to throw a public party.

The Trinity University radio station kicked off a yearlong celebration of the arts in general and jazz in particular Sunday afternoon and evening at the Sunken Garden Theater.

Designed to commemorate the beginning of the station’s 10th year of airing a jazz-driven format, the multimedia event was called “Sunday in Brackenridge Park: Jazz Family Showcase.” It featured dancers, drummers, actors, singers, Mayor Julián Castro reading to kids, the San Antonio Symphony and the premiere of the “San Antonio Jazz Suite,” commissioned by KRTU and written by KRTU disc jockey/pianist Aaron Prado.

“I think it’s great to get this kind of community involvement,” said Barbara Hill, director of programs at the Southwest School of Art, one of 20 nonprofit organizations that have teamed with KRTU for the “Year of Jazz.” “It’s great that we can bring awareness to each other.”

When I was a student, KRTU played mostly vanilla classical music during the day, and switched to jazz at night, which was largely DJ-driven and thus pretty eclectic. The switch to all jazz has been a huge success, with an increase in listeners and greater involvement in the community. It helps that Trinity has a full-fledged communications department, but it’s still a student-run station. Well done, y’all.

Saturday video break: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Song #94 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is one I’d have thought would be higher up, and it’s also the first song in my collection, Nirvana’s iconic “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, covered here by Tori Amos:

I trust you’re familiar with the original, which needless to say is quite different:

I don’t think I can really add anything to that, so let me just include the Weird Al version, because it’s my blog and I can:

It’s the gratuitous use of Dick Van Patten that puts this one over the top for me, but the whole thing is genius. And speaking of going over the top, let’s zoom right past the summit with the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain:

What we learn from this is that no one else should bother touching this song, because you just can’t top that. Hope you enjoyed them all.

Early vote totals, Days Four and Five

Here’s your EV totals for Thursday and Friday, plus the 2009 spreadsheet, the 2007 daily EV report, and the Erik Vidor spreadsheet. And here’s the cumulative summary for the first five days:

Type 2005 2007 2009 2011 ===================================== In Person 15,996 10,767 19,366 14,349 Absentee 1,891 3,555 3,801 4,340 Total 17,887 14,322 22,967 15,689 09 Pct 77.9% 62.4% 100% 68.3%

The relative shares of the 2009 vote is up for the 2005 and 2007 elections, and down a bit for the 2011 election. This is because Friday was relatively busier in the other years than this year.

So with five days’ worth of data, it’s time to start thinking about projections. Here’s how the five day EV totals compared to the final amounts in each of the last three elections:

Year 5 Day Ev Total EV 5 Day Pct ====================================== 2005 17,887 78,585 22.8% 2007 14,322 50,264 28.5% 2009 22,967 80,516 28.5% 2011 15,689 55,001 28.5%

As noted before, the final day EV totals in 2005 were much higher than on other days, thanks in large part to the anti-gay marriage referendum. In a more normal year, it looks like 28.5% of the early vote is cast in the first five days. That gives us a projection of 55,001 early votes for this year.

We then compare the EV totals to the final totals, bearing in mind that this is for all of Harris County. This is how it looked before:

Year Early Total EV Pct ====================================== 2005 81,007 332,154 24.4% 2007 52,476 193,945 27.1% 2009 82,978 257,312 32.1% 2011 57,000 233,606 24.4% 2011 57,000 210,332 27.1% 2011 57,000 177,570 32.1%

The Early totals are higher here because absentee ballots continue to arrive between Friday and Tuesday. In each of the previous three elections, about 2000 or 2500 late absentee ballots came in. I added 2000 to the projected total for this year, then extended it out to a final Harris County tally based on the EV percentage of each previous election. It can be a pretty wide spread, depending on what you believe is the early vote share. Note that these numbers are generally lower than for even-numbered years, which I suspect is related to the older demographic that votes in municipal elections.

Finally, we discount these totals to reflect Houston votes only. In previous elections, the Houston share of the Harris County vote has been between 63 and 69 percent. To simplify things, let’s assume that the low end is 60% and the high end is 70%. Applying those numbers to the high and low vote totals gives a range of 106,542 to 163,524 Harris County votes for the Houston elections. Throw in another 2,500 votes or so from Fort Bend and Montgomery for the final totals, so in round numbers 109,000 to 166,000 total votes. Again, a pretty wide spread, but my guess is the lower end is where the actual mark will be. Let’s adjust my over/under number to 130,000 at this point, which is to say a slight improvement over 2007. Nothing to write home about, but at least it wouldn’t go into the record books as a new low.

Anyway. Here’s the Chron story, which makes the fundamental mis-assumption of comparing the totals to 2009 only. I’ll say again, the model for this election is 2007, and by all indications we’re right on target for that. Have you voted yet?

Assessing the wildfire damage

This will be grim work.

A multiagency environmental response task force will soon issue a report assessing the environmental and ecological damage of the wildfires.

“It’s almost complete,” said Roxanne Hernandez, administrator for the county’s Lost Pines Habitat Conservation Plan , who expects the report to be finished by mid-November.

The task force is looking into issues of wildlife management, soil, erosion, water quality, reforestation and habitat, she said.

The early September wildfire’s initial damage to 35,000 acres is obvious — the pines at Bastrop State Park, for instance, will take 50 years to fully return — but the full scope of the damage is a wait-and-see proposition.

What’s really sad is that whatever the report recommends we do to mitigate the damage and hasten the recovery, I don’t have any faith that the state will do. And if federal action is needed, I don’t see Rick Perry generating any sympathy when he asks for it. I fear the damaged areas will just have to fix themselves.

Shunning A&M

It’s not just the UT-A&M football game that’s on the endangered list.

The SEC-bound Aggies have said they’d love to keep playing UT as a non-conference foe, but Longhorns athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said the school’s football schedule is full at least through 2018. That isn’t the case for all sports, but so far A&M has come up dry in scheduling future contests of any sort with UT.

“There doesn’t seem to be nearly as much interest from the other side,” A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said Monday.


Byrne has instructed his coaches to contact their UT counterparts about scheduling future non-conference games – with no luck to date.

“I reached out about four weeks ago to Texas and emailed and said we’d love to keep the series going,” A&M soccer coach G. Guerrieri said. “I haven’t heard back.”

A&M baseball coach Rob Childress said he and UT counterpart Augie Garrido have yet to discuss whether to continue playing as non-conference foes.

I’d speculated about this before, and I can’t say I’m surprised to see UT give A&M a cold shoulder. There’s no real incentive for them to do otherwise. The question now is whether any other Texas-based school will follow the Longhorns’ lead. At least one so far seems to be doing so.

As for the Aggies perhaps playing another soon-to-be former Big 12 mate in Baylor, Bears athletic director Ian McCaw said via email Monday, “At this time, our future non-conference football schedules are filled through 2020. With regard to scheduling Texas A&M in other sports, it will be considered on a sport-by-sport basis.”

Anyone know what the status of future games between A&M and Texas Tech is? How about TCU, SMU, and UH? Rice has played A&M fairly regularly in baseball lately, and occasionally in basketball, but has not played them in football since the demise of the SWC. I don’t expect any changes there. Looks to me like the Aggies will be racking up the frequent flyer miles in the coming years.

There’s an app for reporting handicapped parking space violators

In Austin, anyway.

Ever see someone parked illegally and wanted to do something about it? Your chance might be coming.

A new smartphone app could allow people in Austin to report illegal parking in spots reserved for people with disabilities.

The City Council on Thursday will consider a resolution to link such an app to city offices. People would simply snap a photo and send it to the city, which would dispatch authorities to ticket the violators.


“The only way we’re going to be able to address the problem is if we enlist help from ordinary citizens,” [Council Member Chris] Riley said. “A citizen (can) bring the problem to the city’s attention, and the city then deals with it.”

Officials said one company that has developed such an app is Parking Mobility, a nonprofit group with offices in Austin . The city staff would decide whether to use Parking Mobility or another company and return to the council with a proposal in three months.

This was to happen last week, but I never saw a followup story to say if it passed or not. Be that as it may, I understand that in Houston private citizens can be given training to assist in the enforcement of handicapped parking laws, for which the fine for a violation increased from $205 to $500 a few months ago. Something like this would just take that a step further. Seems like a good idea to me.

Friday random ten: Trick or treat

Repeating a theme from 2009 (but not any songs), here’s a list to get you into the Halloween spirit:

1. It Must Be Halloween – Trout Fishing In America
2. Brilliant Disguise – Bruce Springsteen
3. Zombie Jamboree – Lager Rhythms
4. It’s A Sweet Ghost Party – team9 vs Stereogum
5. Witchcraft – Frank Sinatra
6. Werewolves of London – Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon
7. Gods and Monsters – Arnold McCuller
8. Spooky – Joan Osborne
9. Coisa Feita (Black Magic Spell) – Susanna Sharp and the Samba Police
10. I Put A Spell On You – Pete Townshend

Olivia says she’s going to be a vampire princess for Halloween. Audrey still hasn’t quite settled on a single idea, though she’s mentioned vampires, horses, and clowns. I’m pretty sure a vampire clown would scare some people. What are you doing for Halloween?

Redistricting updates

The redoubtable Michael Li takes to BOR to bring an update on the preclearance lawsuit in DC, in which the Justice Department has strongly contested the state’s House and Congressional maps.

In papers filed [Tuesday] evening in Washington, the Department of Justice made clear that it will vigorously oppose Texas’ request, slamming the state for using the wrong legal standard and arguing that “there is direct and circumstantial evidence that the development and passage of [the state’s] redistricting plans were tarnished by the prohibited purpose of diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group to elect their preferred candidates.”


The DOJ explained that under the state’s new map, the Hispanic candidate of choice goes from winning 40% of the time in CD-23 to winning ZERO percent of the time.

The DOJ also sharply rejected Attorney General Greg Abbott’s argument that only majority minority districts are relevant in a preclearance analysis. In its filing, DOJ accused Abbott of “conflating Section 5 with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court has repeatedly advised against.” The DOJ explained that even where a minority group is not a majority, it still can have the ‘ability to elect’ its candidates of choice.

Using the correct standard, DOJ told the D.C. panel that Republicans’ proposed state house map reduced the number of effective minority districts from 50 to 45 or 46.

The DOJ took issues with the state’s proposed congressional map in light of “an almost unprecedented increase in the number of seats in its congressional delegation – four – resulting from a State population increase fueled mostly by the increase in the State’s Hispanic population.”

Despite that growth boom, according to DOJ, “[u]nder the proposed plan, Hispanic voters will lose ground in their existing ability to elect candidates of choice … even though the number of Hispanic majority districts remains the same [at] seven,” pointing to what it says are problems in CD-23 and CD-27.

There’s more at the link, and Li has more at his own blog as well. TPM discusses some of the evidence in play, emails to and from the offices of Congressional Republicans.

Many of the emails are to and from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), in regard to moving Hispanic voters into one district to make it harder for a Democratic congressman to win his district. In one email, a lawyer for Smith relates that the congressman wanted to move a neighborhood around the San Antonio Country Club from out of the Hispanic district and into his to reduce the number of white voters in the Democratic district.

Instead of going with the much cheaper option of having the Justice Department pre-clear their redistricting plan, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott opted for the more costly route by asking a federal court to do so. Later, he challenged the Constitutionality of section five of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that it infringed on the rights of the states.

Circumventing DOJ was Smith’s preferred option early on in the process. In an April 3 email to the chief of staff for the speaker of the Texas House, Smith wrote that they “agree that we are not going to seek (Justice Department) preclearance but will go to a three-judge panel in D.C.”

One longtime Republican staffer didn’t think that was such a great idea. Dub Maines, a staffer for Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) wrote in an email on June 9 that the “idea of challenging the Constitutionality of Section 5 is high-risk poker with no discernible positive return.” He thought that the redistricting map “has next to no chance of pre-clearance” – either by the Justice Department or the D.C. circuit court.

“The map I’ve sent you has a very high probability of pre-clearing – at least in the DC court,” Maines wrote. “This is the analysis of those who have practiced in the Voting Rights area – very successfully – for over 25 years. I would encourage you to speak with them about the Committee-passed map. They may be from evil DC, but they ARE the premier experts in this area, and I believe it would be prudent to entertain their thoughts on this map!”

As the Houston Chronicle reports, just four hours after Maines wrote that email, Smith messaged Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) to ask him to call Barton in an effort to stop Maines. “Dub Mains (sic) sending emails criticizing [congressional district] 20. May be used against us in court.”

And yet he put that in writing, presumably knowing full well that it would be subject to discovery. I’m not sure if that’s denseness or hubris, but either way you have to admire it for what it is.

Finally, back in San Antonio, the court there will hash out the proposed interim maps for the House, Senate, and Congress. Hard to see how they don’t order something in place of what the Republicans passed, but there’s a lot of variance in what they could go with.

Perry opposes Confederate license plates

Credit where it’s due.

Gov. Rick Perry does not support a Confederate flag specialty license plate under consideration by the state Department of Motor Vehicles board, he said in Florida this morning.

In an interview with Bay News 9 following a breakfast fundraiser on St. Pete Beach, he said the proposed plates, brought before the DMV board by Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, would bring up too many negative emotions.

“We don’t need to be scraping old wounds,” he said.


Opponents of the plates, like the liberal group Progress Texas, which collected 22,000 signatures against them, said they hope Perry does get involved and directs his appointees to vote against them.

“Since the governor appointed all nine members on the DMV board, we hope he makes sure they vote down the state -sanctioned use of this racist relic,” said Matt Glazer, the group’s executive director. “We further hope that Jerry Patterson and the Sons of Confederate Veterans will not tie up the courts and legal system on this unnecessary matter so that we can focus on the important issues facing Texas.”

Took him long enough to say something, but at least he said the right thing, and good on him for that. I join Progress Texas and my friend Matt Glazer in the hope that this is the end of it.

San Antonio B-Cycle expands

Seven months after beginning, San Antonio’s bike sharing program has completed an expansion.

B-cycle, San Antonio’s bike share program, now boasts 20 docking stations and 200 bikes.


Yearly memberships for $30 are still available by visiting and using the promo code “current.” The deal is good until March.

You can see a map of their kiosks at the link. They originally had 14 kiosks and 140 bikes, and the deal for yearly membership is half off the original price.

I’m pleased to say that I have a status update on Houston’s bike sharing program, which was supposed to have had a pilot rollout by the fall. According to Laura Spanjian, the schedule has slipped a little, but they are on track for a late 2011/early 2012 launch. Bike Houston is setting up a non-profit to run the pilot program, with support from the city, and B-Cycle won the bid to provide the bikes. So, progress is indeed being made. I will report back when I hear more.

The can ban battle is getting ridiculous

Meanwhile, back in New Braunfels

The two sides in the Nov. 8 container ban election are talking trash.

Or, to be more precise, they are quibbling about amounts of trash.

Along the way, the normally tranquil political landscape in the city has seen the proliferation of political action committees, paperwork mistakes, stealth recall petitions, lawsuits, stolen campaign signs, Internet shenanigans, in-fighting, a criminal investigation, and a grassroots movement that’s taking aim at City Hall and its occupants.

See here, here, here, and here for some background. Who says politics in the big cities is more dysfunctional than in the small towns? I have a feeling that this issue will remain unresolved long after the vote is held.

Kroger gets its 380

Despite neighborhood opposition, City Council has approved a 380 agreement for the proposed Kroger on Studemont at I-10.

District H Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who represents the area around the proposed store and who championed the 380 agreement, insisted the deal was less an incentive to Kroger than it was a way for the city to extract benefits from a market-driven project. The deal gives the city two blocks of road, sidewalks and traffic lights more than a decade early, and also hands over to the city a third of an acre that it would someday need to extend Summer Street from Studemont to Sawyer.

Mayor Annise Parker said Houston’s strategy differs from that of cities that build infrastructure first and then try to recruit businesses to move in.

“We have not chosen to use that sort of what I would call ‘corporate welfare.’ We have said, ‘Business, if you want to open and you need the street, you pay for the street. We’ll pay you back, but if you really want to be there, you use your dollars upfront,'” Parker said.

The city will pay a premium on that upfront money. The deal calls for the city to pay Kroger back with 5.17 percent interest. The city’s rate on bonds through which it finances public works projects ranges from 2.55 percent to 4.06 percent, according to information that Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck got from the city’s Finance Department.

“What do you make on your IRA? I would love to make a 5.17 percent return,” Clutterbuck said. “The taxpayer, in my opinion, should not be on the hook for that.”

The rationale given by Mayor Parker for the use of 380 agreements is sensible. It’s certainly a less risky approach than “build it and hope they come”. Aside from the premium interest rate, whether it’s good policy to use a 380 in this particular location is another matter. The outline of the deal here sounds better than what was struck for Ainbinder on Yale Street, but I’m dubious about the wisdom of a supermarket there. I’ve seen traffic at the light back up all the way to Center Street during the afternoon rush hour, thanks in large part to the many people wanting to enter I-10 West from Studemont. The thought of adding in grocery store traffic, not to mention another traffic light, makes my head hurt. Having said that, I’m not sure what kind of development could have been built there that would be both low impact on traffic and profitable to the developer. Long term, I may have to think about using Sawyer/Watson as an alternate route, though if the rumored plans of an Alamo Drafthouse come to fruition, it may not be much better.

Class size issues are everywhere

We know that waiver requests to exceed the 22 student class size limit are way up. But that mandated limit is only for grades K through 4. What about higher grade levels? Patricia Kilday Hart reports that those classrooms are more crowded, too.

Lamar High Principal James McSwain estimates his classes are on average 8 to 10 students larger. Susan Kellner, Spring Branch ISD board president, says her district’s middle school classes have jumped in size – with as many as 35 students in one class.

At Bellaire, [Principal Tim] Salem trimmed as few teachers as possible, but that meant he had to cut other staff positions, like a school counselor. Counselors manage class schedules and meet with kids in crisis; they are also the one adult constant in a student’s high school career. “That’s their graduation compass,” Salem told me. Each Bellaire counselor now has a caseload of 450 to 500 students.

Salem said Bellaire has some classes with 40 and 41 students; math teacher Kathy Gardner told me she had a pre-AP geometry class that started the year with 43 students (though the class dwindled to 35 as students reacted to the workload.)

What’s it like in a classroom with that many teenagers?

“I can’t even walk between the desks,” U.S. history teacher Lori Good told me. “I’ve tripped on backpacks twice.”

The mantra of those who defend the budget cuts and minimize concerns about class sizes is that teacher quality matters more than the number of students. The problem is that at some point, even the best teachers can’t operate effectively. And some of them will decide that rather than have to deal with all this extra work for no extra pay, there must be a better deal for them elsewhere. Which means that the super-sized classrooms may have negative effects that last well past the point of a hoped-for future budgetary fix.

But before we can realistically hope for a budgetary fix, we need to make sure everyone understands what the problem is that needs to be fixed. This is a good start:

[T]he Spring Branch board president said she is hearing complaints from parents who are “worried that their children are going to get less attention.”

Those concerns should be directed at state lawmakers, many of whom argued that reducing per-student funding wouldn’t really alter life in a Texas public school.

“I tell parents to tell their legislators what it looks like in reality and not just in theory,” says Kellner. “This was a state decision.”

For Spring Branch, that would be State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, and he voted to create the problem. If you want it fixed, you should vote accordingly in 2012. If you live somewhere else, find out who your State Rep and State Senators are, and if they were part of the problem as well, make yourself and your vote part of the solution next year. Nothing will change until that happens.

McAllen ISD goes digital

Here’s a look at the future, coming to a school near you.

A Rio Grande Valley school district plans to equip every one of its 25,000 students with Apple iPads, rolling ahead with a digitally enhanced curriculum effort that’s among the largest of its type in the nation.

“It’s not just about a device; it’s about a device in a child’s hand,” McAllen ISD Superintendent James Ponce told school officials and local dignitaries packed into an elementary school library for the announcement Tuesday. “It puts McAllen ISD out front and center.”

The school board last month unanimously approved the first phase of the project, a $3.6 million purchase of more than 5,000 iPad 2’s and 425 iPod Touch devices.

Within a year’s time, the district plans to take things districtwide, spending millions on devices that well may become each student’s own Internet research library, project manager and academic navigator.

To equip each student with an iPad will cost about $20.5 million, district officials said. The district will buy the devices, but said they also will pursue grants and donations to help pay for them.

While McAllen ISD officials say that this is the biggest project of its type in the country, it’s conceptually nothing new. The Lege passed a law in 2009 that directed the TEA to to adopt a list of electronic textbooks and instructional materials from which schools could select electronic textbooks or instructional materials to purchase. Admittedly, it’s been slow going so far, but some more innovative districts have found ways to take advantage of smartphones to enhance the classroom experience. This is just the next logical step in the progression. I wish McAllen ISD luck in finding underwriters for this project, and I hope they keep good track of all of their data.

Grand jury requests special prosecutor

It’s getting mighty interesting over there.

A Houston grand jury that may be investigating the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and the Houston Police Department’s troubled breath alcohol testing vans has asked for a special prosecutor and an extension of its term.

In open court [Tuesday] afternoon, grand jurors asked state District Judge Susan Brown to extend their three-month term past their scheduled end date in early November.

Brown said she would rule on both motions by the grand jury’s next session Thursday.

Judge Brown didn’t wait that long to rule.

State District Judge Susan Brown on Wednesday named attorneys Stephen C. St. Martin and James Mount as temporary prosecutors to assist a grand jury apparently investigating the Houston Police Department’s troubled mobile alcohol testing program.

The order appointing St. Martin and Mount, both former assistant district attorneys now in private practice, states that grand jurors are investigating “possible criminal conduct by members of the Harris County district attorney’s office.”

“After considering the grand jury’s request and the applicable law, the court finds the Harris County District Attorney and her office are disqualified from participating in the grand jury’s investigation,” Brown wrote.

Holy ghost of Chuck Rosenthal, Batman! I’m pretty sure we’ve never seen anything quite like this in Harris County before. It must be noted that we’re less than three weeks away from the start of the candidate filing season. You have to think that there are some people reassessing their chances in an election against DA Pat Lykos about now. That’ll be something else to keep your eye on going forward. Murray Newman and Lisa Falkenberg have more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 24

The Texas Progressive Alliance celebrates the start of the early voting period for the 2011 elections as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Early vote totals, Days Two and Three

Here are your Early Voting totals for Day Two and Day Three. As a reminder, here’s my spreadsheet from 2009; the Erik Vidor spreadsheet that has running totals from 2009, 2007, and 2005; and a new addition to my data sets, courtesy of the County Clerk’s office, the full daily EV report from 2007, which includes individual tallies from each EV location. Let’s do a chart to summarize:

Type 2005 2007 2009 2011 ===================================== In Person 8,611 5,950 11,916 7,930 Absentee 1,238 2,328 3,276 3,350 Total 9,849 8,278 15,192 11,280 09 Pct 64.8% 54.5% 100% 74.2%

“09 Pct” is the fraction of that year’s total compared to 2009. So far, not too bad for 2011. Maybe this won’t keep up – remember, in 2005, a huge share of the early vote came in the last couple of days. If there’s less of a surge in the last days of EV this time than what we usually see, that will shade everything down. It’s too early to tell.

We now also have Kyle Johnston’s detailed analyses from Day One and Day Two, which tell you everything you could want to know about who has voted so far in the City of Houston. Two things to note: One is that a mere half of the votes from Monday were City of Houston. My suspicion was that this was skewed by the first day accumulation of mail ballots. That turned out to be a decent guess, as the two day City of Houston vote total of 5,187 represents about 65% of the two day Harris County total of 7,959. That’s right in line with historic norms. Two, note that 75% of all ballots cast on Day One were from people who had voted in each of the last three city elections. Another 17% came from people who had voted in two of the last three elections. Putting it another way, only 8% of the votes came from people who are not habitual voters, and I’d bet a decent number of this group weren’t eligible to vote in the city in previous elections. This is why I say that polls that rely on respondents to self-screen for likelihood of voting cannot be trusted. Your actions speak way louder than your words, and if you don’t have a demonstrated history of voting in these elections, I don’t care what you say – you are not a “likely” voter.

Where are the 30 day reports?

On October 11, the vast majority of 30 Day campaign finance reports were posted on the city’s website. Since then, only two new reports (not counting corrected reports) have been posted, with quite a few candidates not filing them at all. These are the candidates that do not have a 30 Day report posted on the city’s website:

  • Scott Boates, At Large #1
  • James Partsch-Galvan, At Large #1
  • Bob Schoellkopf, District A
  • Phillip Bryant, District B
  • Kenneth Perkins, District B
  • Bryan Smart, District B
  • James Joseph, District B
  • Larry McKinzie, District D
  • Nguyen Thai Hoc, District F
  • Alexander Gonik, District K

This represents a change of five names from my original list of non-filers. Randy Locke and Bob Ryan filed reports electronically. Amanda Ullman and Gordon Goss filed non-electronic reports. Ronald Green is unopposed and is therefore not required to file a 30 Day report.

As for the others, I have no idea why they have not filed their report. If you see one of them or otherwise have contact with their campaign, I suggest you ask them that question. If you get an answer, by all means please share it with us. The 8 Day reports are due in less than a week. I hope they do a better job with those.

The Rick Perry bailout

I don’t think I’d ever heard about this before.

Over his eight years as Texas’ [Agriculture Commissioner], [Rick] Perry oversaw a loan guarantee program with so many defaults that the state had to stop guaranteeing bank loans to startups in agribusiness and eventually bailed out the program with taxpayer money.

The state auditor panned Perry’s claims of creating jobs and criticized Perry and his fellow board members at the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority for not following their own lending guidelines.

In some instances, the auditor said, Perry and the authority guaranteed loans to applicants with a negative net worth or too much debt. Citing growing debts, the auditor finally suggested that state officials consider dismantling the program.

Even as the first alarms were sounded, Perry defended the program, saying no taxpayer money was at risk, blaming others and claiming he had fixed it.

It only got worse.

By 2002, Perry’s successor, Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, a Republican, stopped making loans as the percentage of bad loans neared 30 percent.

By 2009, her successor, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, also a Republican, asked the Legislature to pay off the loan guarantees with a $14.7 million appropriation. The finance authority could no longer afford the $541,000 to cover the annual interest on the bad debts, almost all of which dated back to Perry’s tenure.

“It’s bad,” Staples told the American-Statesman at the time. “Unfortunately, taxpayers are on the hook for something that happened as long ago as 1987.”

In effect, Perry, as governor, signed his own government bailout when he approved the 2009 appropriations bill.

Read the whole thing, it’s quite interesting. The amount of money needed to close the books on this program wasn’t very much, but it’s clear that it was entirely Perry’s responsibility as Ag Commissioner, and that he spent a lot of effort defending his sinking ship. And I’m amazed that I’d never heard of this before now. You wonder how the 2010 campaign might have proceeded if “Rick Perry authorized his own bailout” had been part of it. Maybe we’ll get some idea about that next year.

More classrooms with more kids

We all knew this was coming, but the numbers are more than I expected.

Thousands of Texas public schoolchildren are in more crowded classes this year as districts claim financial hardship following state budget cuts.

The number of elementary school classrooms exceeding the state’s class size cap has more than doubled since last year.


Districts faced unprecedented budget cuts this year, with state lawmakers allocating $2 billion less than schools historically would have received.

The number of waivers sought by Houston-area districts has grown dramatically.

For example, the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District reports that it has exceeded the size limit this fall in 15 percent of its elementary classes. But it has capped the classes at 25 students, said Cy-Fair ISD’s general counsel, Marney Collins Sims. The district is requesting 294 waivers, up from nine last year.

Fort Bend ISD’s waivers skyrocketed to 238, with classes generally at 24 students. Last year the district had 22 waivers.

“Due to the reduction by the state in our budget, we could not hire teachers to the same degree we did last year,” said Fort Bend ISD Assistant Superintendent Marc Smith.

Houston ISD, the largest district in the state, typically has the most waivers, and the number jumped to 1,048 classrooms exceeding the cap this fall – up from 693 last year. Roughly a quarter of the district’s elementary classes top the limit this year.

Expect even more next year, when deeper cuts kick in. If you think this was a poor decision by the Legislature, you’d better be prepared to express that disapproval at the ballot box.

Rob Eissler, who chairs the House Public Education Committee, said he suspects that most of the classes are increasing by only one or two students, so he’s not worried.

“The key is, let’s see what the results are,” Eissler said, noting that he wants to see student test data after this year.

Let’s make a deal, shall we? I will agree to wait and see what the data says, as long as those who are responsible for these cuts agree to undo them if it turns out that the data says there was a negative effect. No excuses, no waffling, no finger-pointing, no scapegoating, no extensions. If scores go down, funding goes up, and if Dan Patrick’s property taxes have to go up to pay for it, then so be it. What do you say?

WVU to Big XII?

The Big XII appears to have a replacement in mind for when Missouri makes its move to the SEC.

The Big 12 has approved bringing in West Virginia to replace Missouri when the Tigers complete their move to the Southeastern Conference, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the school nor the Big 12 had announced that its board of directors unanimously approved inviting West Virginia when Missouri’s spot comes open.

The move would allow the Big 12 to maintain 10 members and is another blow to the embattled Big East, which already has lost two members and one member-to-be in the last six weeks.

The Big East is trying to reconfigure as a 12-team football league and has been courting Boise State, Navy and Air Force as football-only members and Central Florida, SMU and Houston for all sports. Commissioner John Marinatto met with officials from some of those schools Sunday in Washington.

Since there is no timetable for Missouri to complete its expected departure from the Big 12 — and the league’s board of directors announced that it expressed “a strong desire” for Missouri to stay during a Monday meeting — there is no timetable for West Virginia to receive a formal invitation, the person said.

But the school will accept an invitation once it is offered, the person said.

That news comes at a time when the powers that be at UH are considering their invitation to the Big East, or whatever may be left of it.

UH’s board of regents called for a special meeting at 4 p.m. on Thursday regarding the school’s athletic conference affiliation.

On the meeting agenda is a request for approval to “delegate authority to the Chancellor to negotiate and execute a contract for athletic conference affiliation and to negotiate and provide notice of contract cancellation as necessary.”

The agenda does not specify a particular conference, but a person familiar with the Big East’s expansion discussions told the Chronicle last week that UH received an invitation to the Big East Conference.

If school chancellor and president Renu Khator is granted approval to act on conference affiliation on Thursday, the timetable for when UH might take its next step in determining its conference future is unclear.

“Thursday’s meeting is to give our board members an update on conference realignment as it pertains to the University of Houston,” UH athletic director Mack Rhoades said in a statement. “There is a great deal of speculation out there, and this meeting will allow us to provide our leadership with up-to-date information.”

The NYT says that the schools that were targeted by the Big East had been told about the possibility of WVU departing, so one presumes this is not a surprise. The question is whether it’s the last domino, and if so for how long.

While Big East officials and athletic directors are confident they will rebuild, there are troubling lingering issues. Does Notre Dame risk further Big East defections? It’s reasonable to expect the Big 12 to grow when it renegotiates its ESPN deal, which expires after the 2015 football season. That would put Louisville at risk of getting grabbed.

And Connecticut is yearning to be in the ACC. So again I say there may not be a Big East for anyone to join. Good luck with that decision, y’all.

Early voting totals, Day One

Here’s the Day One early voting totals for Harris County, which you can compare to the 2009 totals here. My buddy Erik Vidor also put together a spreadsheet with 2005 and 2007 totals that you can see here. There’s a lot of numbers tro keep track of, so let’s go through them.

– The total number of votes tallied for a given day is the sum of “Total – In Person” and “Mail Ballots Returned”. This is how I do it in my 2009 spreadsheet, but for reasons unclear to me, it’s given as “Total – In Person” plus “Ballots Mailed” in the County Clerk file. So the proper comparison here is 4,636 votes for 2011 (2,557 In Person plus 2,079 Ballots Returned) to 6,162 for 2009, 2,638 for 2007, and 3,385 for 2005.

– Putting it another way, the Day One EV total for 2011 is 75.2% of the 2009 total. Project that out, and there would be 134,503 Houston votes cast in Harris County; compare to 178,777 in 2009. The actual totals are higher due to precincts in Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties. That’s considerably higher than my prediction, and even higher than Bob Stein’s prediction, which I thought was optimistic. It’s foolish to make projections based on one day, but based on this one day at least, there’s no clear evidence that this will be a historically low-turnout election. It will still be a low turnout affair at this pace, but it will be comparable to 2007, not a step down from it.

– One reason why it’s foolish to make projections based on one day is that the normal pattern for early voting is a slow first week and a very busy last couple of days. Things got a lot busier at the end in 2005 – the number of ballots cast on the last day of Early Voting exceeded the total of the first five days combined – but not nearly as busy in 2007 or 2009. That partly reflects the overall shift in voting behavior to early voting – in 2005, 26.4% of ballots cast in the city races were early, compared to 34.9% of ballots in 2009. The Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment ha a bif effect on turnout in 2005, but my point is simply that we should expect a greater percentage of the total vote to be cast early this year than it was then. My guess is the early vote will represent 35 to 40 percent of the final total.

– Another thing to keep in mind is that the vote totals you see in those documents are from all of Harris County, not just Houston. In 2009, 69.5% of the votes cast in Harris County were City of Houston votes. In 2007, 63.6% of the votes were in Houston, and in 2005 only 56.9% of the vote share was Houston. There are no high profile Constitutional amendments on the ballot, so the Houston vote share will certainly be higher than it was in 2005, but the question is whether it’s more like 2007 or 2009, as that will affect the total vote outcome.

– On a side note, the total number of absentee ballots that had been mailed out by Day One of early voting in 2009 was 17,413, while that same number for 2011 is 12,041. However, there were more mail ballots returned by yesterday (2,079) than there were at this time on 2009 (2,073). There were 9,148 mail ballots returned by the end of early voting in 2009 out of 20,987 total mailed, or 43.6%. This year’s return total may be a bit higher than that.

That’s all for today. I’ll be keeping track of this going forward. So who’s voted yet?

Third quarter Congressional fundraising

The Trib has the highlights from some of the contested Congressional primaries that are shaping up.

Texas congressional incumbents raised more than $4.7 million during the third quarter of the year, but some of them face challengers who also displayed a knack for raising political cash. New fundraising reports show what’s in the war chests of Texans vying for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, giving definition to some of the state’s most closely watched races.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, wowed by bringing in more than $500,000 for his challenge to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. Doggett raised $377,000 by comparison – but he reported millions more in cash on hand, $3.3 million to Castro’s $389,000.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, raised almost $290,000 in the third quarter, far outpacing his first serious challenger, Beto O’Rourke. The former El Paso City Council member raised almost $26,000 and ended the quarter with about $12,000 on hand to Reyes’s $276,000.

State Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, reported another of the top challenger fundraising numbers – about $137,500 – in his contest with U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-San Antonio, who raised slightly less. The incumbent reported about $460,000 in cash on hand to Gallego’s nearly $136,000.

You should read that linked story about Beto O’Rourke, which I saw at the time but didn’t get a chance to write about. I don’t have anything in particular against Rep. Silvestre Reyes, but a young, aggressive progressive like O’Rourke is exactly the kind of person I want to see succeed in politics. O’Rourke has no money to speak of yet, but if you look at his campaign finance report, you see that he only filed his initial paperwork on August 26, so there wasn’t much time to raise money for this period. We’ll see how he does in the next quarter.

I should note that State Rep. Pete Gallego, whose report is here, also didn’t file paperwork until late in the quarter. He did pretty well for himself, which is very encouraging, as Rep. Gallego is another person I’d like to see succeed.

That covers three of the four contested Dem primaries that I know of for this cycle. The fourth is in CD30, where Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson already has one opponent in State Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway and may soon have another in businessman Taj Clayton. Rep. Johnson raised $82K for the period and has $223K on hand, not great but probably okay for a longtime incumbent who is well known. Rep. Caraway does not have a report visible through the search facility, but she does have a report. It’s here, and it was done by hand. No, I don’t understand why anyone would do it that way if they didn’t have to, either. In any event, she raised $13K and has $7K on hand, all from the month of September; note that in addition to the old-school handwriting, the form was filed for 2010 and not 2011. Hopefully, she’ll get her act together for the next quarterly filing. Thanks to DavidNYC for pointing this out to me.

I should note that the Trib provides a handy app that summarizes all candidates’ totals. I was a bit confused at first by the differences between their numbers and what you see in the FEC reports, but eventually it dawned on me that the totals the FEC gives for receipts are cumulative for the cycle, and not just the amouint raised in the given period. This is not how the state and city reports are done, which is why I was thrown off. In any event, the Trib’s app lets you know how much was raised over the past three months, which would be hard to do otherwide unless you had saved a query result from July.

Two other numbers of interest to note. Freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold was cited by Politico as an underperformer for this period, having raised a mere $102K. He does have $277K on hand, which isn’t nothing but also isn’t exactly insurmountable. You can see his FEC report here. Farenthold was by no means the low scorer – by my count, ten incumbents raised less, and eleven others have less cash. Fellow freshman Quico Canseco, in what is now a swingier district, raised $112K, but has $460K on hand.

And finally, a number to make you shake your head.

Seeking to gin up enthusiasm about an expanding the 2012 Senate map, national Democrats touted the candidacy of retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez when he entered the Texas Senate race in the spring. But Sanchez has maintained a low profile so far and his latest fundraising numbers aren’t impressive.

In the third quarter, Sanchez brought in just $83,000, spending over $112,000 and finishing the quarter with about $119,000 in the bank.

Yeah, that’s what I call a truly crappy report. I hope it’s because he has not been fully engaged in fundraising yet and not because no one is giving anything. At least there’s no place to go from here but up.

Margins tax lawsuit goes to Supreme Court

Oral arguments for the lawsuit that claims the business margins tax is an unconstitutional income tax are being heard by the State Supreme Court this week.

In a lawsuit filed in July, Allcat Claims Service LP , a Boerne insurance adjustment firm, said the margins tax runs afoul of a constitutional provision that requires the Legislature to get voter approval before imposing an income tax.

The case will turn on whether the margins tax — implemented in 2006 as part of the court-ordered school finance fix — is effectively an income tax when applied to certain business partnerships.

Late last week, another challenge to the margins tax was filed by food behemoth Nestle USA, Inc. and two other companies. Their arguments, which are different from Allcat’s claims, [were not] heard by the court [Monday].

If any of the challenges are successful, the implications could be significant for the state because the margins tax is a major source of funding for public education.

That’s why legislators wrote into the 2006 law that any legal challenge to the margins tax would go straight to the Supreme Court.


The total tax paid by partnerships such as Allcat is estimated to be pretty small, though exact figures weren’t immediately available from the Texas comptroller.

But the implications could be huge if the court sides with Allcat, the state says.

“If Plaintiffs are right and any tax imposed on a partnership is an indirect tax on the net income of the partners, the State of Texas cannot lawfully impose any tax on any business entity, including a corporation,” [Attorney General Greg] Abbott argues in court documents.

If the court finds the tax unconstitutional, the remedy could range from a targeted exemption for the partnerships, which is what Allcat is requesting, to tossing out the tax for all businesses.

“It’s sort of wide open what the court might do,” said John Kennedy of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which supports the state’s position that the tax is constitutional.

See here and here for some background. The argument before the Court now is whether or not it has jurisdiction in the case, since it has not been heard by any lower court as yet. It’s entirely possible they could rule that despite the Lege’s intent that the case go straight to them, it needs to go through the system like any other lawsuit would. Add this to the school finance lawsuits, and you’ve got some litigation out there that could profoundly affect Texas’ budget and tax system. Isn’t that a happy thought?

One more thing:

The state estimated the margins tax would raise almost $12 billion in the 2008-09 budget. It actually brought in $8.7 billion in its first two years.

Earlier this year, legislative leaders highlighted the need to reform the tax, but there was little appetite for tackling another complicated issue while grappling with a massive budget shortfall.

Lawmakers have promised to discuss how to fix the margins tax leading up the 2013 legislative session.

No, there was little appetite for doing anything that might raise revenues and thus mitigate the worst of the cuts. The fact that the underperformance of the margins tax was a huge driver of that massive shortfall was blithely ignored by nearly every Republican in Austin. I guarantee you, the more Republicans that are in the Lege in 2013, the more they will continue to pretend that Texas doesn’t really have a revenue problem at all. The Trib has more.

Time to evaluate Grier

It’s performance review time for HISD Superintendent Terry Grier.

The elected nine-member school board uses an evaluation form that consists of data measurements in categories such as the increase in student college readiness; recruiting and retaining the best teachers and principals; and improving the public support and confidence in HISD schools.

Trustees have moved toward an “objective evaluation instrument, instead of a subjective instrument,” said trustee Greg Meyers, who represents HISD District VI. “As data-driven as we are, we wanted an instrument that would aligned with our philosophy.”

The current evaluation allows board members to hold the superintendent accountable for the data results of the district, Meyers said.

But Grier’s performance review is just beginning, said Trustee Juliet Stipeche, who represents HISD District VIII.

“[Friday] was the first day we, as a board, had the opportunity to review the data the administration provided us,” Stipeche said. “Everybody fills out an evaluation form and those are ultimately aggregated.”

Board members will complete the evaluation by Nov. 3, Stipeche said.

I can’t wait to see what they have to say. I’m sure it will have as much bearing on whether or not his contract gets renewed as the election